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What the dirty have done, though, is leave to our imagination which other players might have also juiced up. A sudden gain in muscle mass? A spike in home runs? A seven-mph boost on the fastball? A bigger head? As unfair as it seems to play this variation on the old "Does she or doesn't she?" commercial, it is human nature to extrapolate from what those 11 players and their abetting owners have done.
Likewise, what to make of the records? To borrow from the late Jack Buck, Do you believe what you just saw? Or do you discount the numbers from the era, like a Canadian dollar?
Canseco, for his part, once the best, richest and most popular player in the game, exposed himself as a fraud. His 462 home runs mean ... what exactly? His literary attempt to throw other contemporaries into the fray may or may not stick, but it does add to the clamor of the steroid war.
Canseco claims to be Patient X--baseball's first documented steroid user--but Bonds is the petri dish of the month. The Chronicle reported that prosecutors grilled Bonds for three hours in December 2003 about his knowledge and use of a cornucopia of pharmaceuticals: "the cream" (a testosterone-based balm), "the clear" (THG), human growth hormone, Depo-Testosterone and trenbolone (steroids), insulin, Clomid (a female fertility drug used to enhance the effects of testosterone) and Modafinil (an antinarcolepsy drug used as a stimulant). According to the Chronicle, Bonds testified that he used the cream and the clear but did not know they were steroids. Bonds has not been charged with any crime. His personal trainer, Greg Anderson, is under indictment as part of the BALCO investigation.
Last week Kimberly Bell, who claims to be Bonds's former mistress, told Fox News Channel that he admitted to her that he used steroids in 1999 and 2000. Bell, 35, described physical changes in Bonds, such as bloating and acne on his back, and said that he told her he was using the drugs to help speed his recovery from injuries and that "everyone was doing [steroids]."
Bonds, 40, begins this year with 703 home runs. But is that in Canadian dollars? Assuming Bonds recovers, as expected, from arthroscopic knee surgery that will limit his activity in spring training, he will pass Ruth before the heat of summer arrives, leaving only Hank Aaron and his 755 home runs ahead of him. And a once-in-a-generation colossal event that should set the MLB marketing people aglow will be met by ... what? A shrug? Worse?
"In San Francisco? It will be received very well," Selig says about number 715, keen to sports' tradition of provincialism. "Elsewhere? I don't know. Time will tell. I'll be very interested to see what happens."
Geez. Somebody passes the Babe and it's as uncomfortable as when that uncle of yours passes wind at the Thanksgiving dinner table. Bonds, remember, was actually booed making a World Series appearance last year in St. Louis-- St. Louis!--the Mayberry of baseball.
"We'll have a great year as long as we keep the focus on the field," Selig says. "I am confident our attendance will set an alltime record."
Baseball did set an attendance record last year by drawing 73 million fans (though per-game attendance still lags below the pre-1994 strike level). Nine teams surpassed three million fans. A team that lost 111 games, the Arizona Diamondbacks, outdrew every one of the 20 Yankees world championship teams from 1923 to 1962.